Category Archives: Literacy

Reading Leads To Write Good Leads, Leads to More Reading!

“I think I might actually read this book.” Music to my ears in class just the other day, while doing a simple activity on leads. 

The basic idea of the activity is to show students how to take what they appreciate in a good lead -what grabs their attention and apply it to their own writing.  Simple. However, I have found that this activity serves more purposes than just that!

Here’s how I like to do my “great leads” activity:

1) Have students make a chart in their LA scribblers with the following headings: Title, Lead and My Thoughts

2) Take your class to the library (I used my own class library this year)

3)  Have students choose 5 books randomly from almost anywhere in the library (you may wish to focus just on fiction or non-fiction, and omit poetry)

4) Have students record the info under each heading for the books that they choose 

5) Once they’ve finished their charts – it’s time to share! Reading Leads to Write Good Leads

It always amazes me how this simple activity engages even the reluctant readers in the room. I think it’s because the expectations are something that everyone can attain – they don’t have to READ the book, just copy that first sentence and decide if they like it or not – easy!

Although this is a lesson on “what makes a good lead” and how to apply those characteristics to their writing, something else happens during this time.

Kids are looking at books – all kinds of books. They may have expectations of the book and they may not. They may pick up books they’d like to read, books that they think they’d never read, books that look interesting or just plain weird.

What has happened with my students when I’ve done this activity over the last three years, is that it gets them excited about books! They love sharing the great leads that they find and tearing apart the ones that they don’t like. The discussion is awesome!  I have found that everyone contributes to the sharing portion of this lesson, because they only have to read one sentence aloud to the class and most (if not all) are okay with that. They also find books that they realize they’d like to read (because they want to know where that amazing first sentence leads). That was an unexpected surprise the first time that I did this activity. 

In addition, they hear leads from books that their classmates have found and it’s like it opens up a whole new world to them.

If you haven’t explored leads with your students – try this activity out! You need no prep, and I guarantee you that your students will gain a better grasp of how to hook a reader through their own writing, while getting hooked themselves! 

Have fun, and let me know how it goes if you give this lesson a try!      If you want a bit more structure, I do have a ”Writing Leads” resource for sale in my TeacherPayTeachers Store

Figment – An online collaborative writing tool for students

It takes no time to get into the swing of things, huh? I have only had two days with my new grade 7′s (and I’m aware that it’s still the honeymoon period) but they are simply a lovely bunch of kids and I’m really looking forward to my year with them! That being said, I found a cool new writing tool over the summer that I plan to try out with them and so I thought I’d also share it here. So, just to be clear it’s brand new to me and I haven’t used it with a class yet – but it looks REALLY cool!

The site is called “Figment” and it’s  a site where your students can write, collaborate with each other and ultimately publish their finished pieces online for either the whole class or the entire Figment community to comment on and/or review.

 figment pic

Here’s how I plan to use Figment in my room – hopefully in first term!

One of the first major writing assignments that my students will have this year is to write a Memoir. My plan is to have them type these memoirs into the (simple) template on Figment – basically a word processor. Educators also have the option to “create groups” which means I’ll have all of my students in a private group. I hope that some initial sharing, giving of feedback, revisions and edits will occur in this group. When the pieces are ready, I plan for my students to publish to the Figment community! It’s very fulfilling when you become a “published author”. Using this site, all students will be able to label themselves in this way – which I love.

There is a special spot on Figment for educators to create those private groups, so if you’re interested, be sure to check it out. You have to send off an email request to have access to the private groups and so it’s not immediate. You kind of have to plan ahead, if you want to use this as an option. From what I can tell, though, I can start a thread in the group, asking students to work on a really strong lead today. Perhaps next class, I’ll ask students in a new thread to replace three of their verbs with more precise, active verbs. Students can also start threads, asking for advice and feedback. I’m very excited about this site and I think it has amazing potential.

I’ll be sure to post again after we actually get started with it, to let you know how it’s working in “real life” with real kids.

I also have my plan laid out for my students to blog again this year. I’m excited to begin that process with them this month and I already have two teachers (one in Pakistan and one in USA) who my class will be collaborating with – we’re going to be audiences for each other! Lots of plans! Don’t you love September? Everything seems possible and exciting. I have lots of energy and I just can’t wait to get started!

Side note: If you were interested in blogging with your students this year, I started a Google Doc a while back to help us find each other around the globe and to make collaboration a little bit more structured. Feel free to have a look and add your info if you’re interested and be sure to contact any teachers on the list who have a class that matches yours!

Please, share your goals for writing with your students this year! Cool sites, blog plans – I’d love to hear what you’ve got going on!

 

Freebies, Great Books, New Blogs – Oh My!

I am very proud to be a part of Reading With Mrs. D’s “Booking Across Canada” event! Bloggers from almost all provinces and territories have chosen a book that represents some aspect of where they live and have provided a freebie along with their blog post.

Thanks so much to Mrs. D. for putting this whole blog hop together. It was a fantastic idea and I hope that everyone gathers up LOTS of great titles and freebies to keep in their back pocket for the next school year!

When I was trying to decide what book to choose for this event, there was one very obvious choice, making my decision quite easy. If you’ve ever heard of Prince Edward Island, chances are you may also have heard of a feisty red-headed girl named Anne.
Anne of Green Gables was written by Island author, Lucy Maud Montgomery in 1908. The story is that of Anne Shirley, a spirited and talkative young girl, with an amazing imagination and way with words.

Just in case you’re interested here are two links for you. The first is a link to Amazon to purchase the set of Anne books: The Complete Anne of Green Gables Boxed Set (Anne of Green Gables, Anne of Avonlea, Anne of the Island, Anne of Windy Poplars, Anne’s House of Dreams, … Rainbow Valley, Rilla of Ingleside) This second link will give you 3 of the Anne books, including Anne of Green Gables, as a free download for your Kobo.

anne of green gables freebie

(Picture from www.cbc.ca/books)

 

Anne, a young orphan,  has never felt truly loved by anyone - not even herself. That is, until she goes to live with the Cuthberts, a brother and sister who needed help on their farm at Green Gables on beautiful Prince Edward Island. They had intended to adopt a boy from the orphanage, but were sent Anne instead. Matthew, the brother of the pair, is very kind hearted and convinces his sister Marilla, that they should keep Anne.

Various antics keep the reader engaged, as Anne finds herself constantly getting into lots of sticky situations – none of them actually her fault, of course. Through the story, Anne learns about friendship, love, hard work and accepting herself for who she is. Anne has lots of struggles and successes along her path, as she grows and matures. Of course the Cuthberts come to love the fiery redhead, and call her their own.   I won’t give away any more of the details, or how the novel ends, but I will tell you that you will enjoy the twists and turns of the plot and may need a tissue by the end of this classic Island story.

There are many teaching points and themes that Anne of Green Gables could address in the classroom - voice, sentence fluency, word choice, setting description, new vocabulary, figurative language etc. I have decided to focus on voice.

The way that Anne speaks is filled with passion, theatrics and spirit. This 11year old is not afraid to speak her mind. She uses her imagination to make herself feel better and to bring excitement to her life. Almost any passage in which Anne speaks, could be selected and used as a mentor text, to highlight her imaginative and energetic voice.

The freebie that I have attached would be great to use with this Island classic. Of course, I’m practical and know that not everyone will want or be able to use this exact novel. Therefore, although this freebie was inspired by Anne and her imagination, it can be used with other books from your classroom library.

Anne of Green Gables Freebie

Of course, like many great classics, Anne of Green Gables has also been made into a movie. Truth be told, it’s one of my favorites! Here’s a short trailer of the film.

Make sure to visit as many of the blogs in this event as you can! There are lots of amazing resources out there to be found!

booking across canada

bullying video

 

 

 

 

Thank you Indigo!!!!

I just have a quick post this evening. We got some VERY good news at my school this week. After MUCH work, and many hours we found out that we will be receiving an Indigo Love of Reading Grant for $84 000 over the next three years. Yahoo!!!!!

That’s $84 000 for books and literacy initiatives. Can you believe it? What this means to my school and our kids, I can not even describe. We are a community in need and Indigo has realized that and come to our rescue, so to speak. So, thank you so much to Indigo and all of the awesome teachers and parents who put hours of time into this application. You all rock!!!

Here’s a snippet of the telephone conversation when we found out that we were chosen. It was supposed to be an interview, to decide if our school could move to the next level. Little did we know, we were about to get some AMAZING news:)

 

Scroll down – we are Souris Consolidated School: Indigo Love of Reading Grant. The phone died right after we got the news and so we got cut off – but you get the idea!

 

bullying video

Do your students blog?

I’ve mentioned before that I’m lucky enough to be a contributing teacher-blogger to Global Teacher Connect - an awesome teacher-blog with contributors from all over the world! Head on over and check out my latest post on GTC about my plans for getting my students started with blogging this week. Give us a follow while you’re there!

 

bullying video

 

Bump It Up Boards (A Guest Blog Post)

 Welcome to Kristy, from 2 Peas and a Dog, my guest blogger for today. Thanks again for such an awesome idea, Kristy. Enjoy folks!

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Need a strategy to improve student achievement? Have you tried Bump It Up Boards? They are a great visual way to help your students self monitor their achievement.

bump it up boards

 

bump it up

 

How To Get Started:

Choose a curriculum expectation or focus you see as a need in your classroom. I chose the 4 R’s [retell, relate, reflect, review] reading reflections strategy.

Collect many work samples of your focus. You can use previous student work, ask colleagues for their examples, create your own, use government standardized test exemplars or search the internet for examples.

Ensure your samples represent a range of student achievement levels – not just ones that meet or exceed expectations.

 Student Involvement:

Students worked in groups to read the responses and “grade or mark” each response based on their previous knowledge of what makes a good Retell, Relate, Reflect and Review.

A student in each group was the recorder and wrote down all of their ideas on what made the each exemplar a Level 2, (C), Level 3 (B) or a Level 4 (A).

We had a class discussion and compared our answers to ensure consistency among our expectations for Level 2, 3 and 4 work.

Final Process to Create the Board:

Type up student thinking under the appropriate curriculum expectation categories – this will become your Success Criteria.

Type up the assignment expectations and format the graded work samples to fit on to the display board.

Colour code your examples by level and attach to a bulletin board or poster board. Have students reference this board while working on their assignments to self monitor their progress.

Products to Support Bump It Boards

Free Signs and Labels

Free Four R’s Complete Support Package
2PeasAndADog Blog

Assessing Writing in Middle School

 I had an excellent Professional Development Day yesterday, on assessing writing. I’ve got so much work to do this weekend now! Don’t you just love it when that happens? You attend a PD session and by the time you get to the end, you have more questions than answers? Well, that’s the kind of afternoon that I had (in a good way).

We started off the session with reading a chapter from Assessing Writers, an excellent book from our Literacy Library by author Carl Anderson. Everything was made so simple in that first chapter- confer with your students, gather evidence on what individual students need in their writing and plan your writing lessons and mini-lessons accordingly. Sounds easy, right? In theory it is, and I’m planning on giving it a shot!

assessing writing in middle school

Toward the end of the session, I was able to score a few minutes alone with the Literacy coach to pick her brain about a few things that I’ve been concerned with in my classroom around our new ELA resources and how I’ve been using them. I feel (and have felt for a while) that I am not as focused in my Language Arts teaching as I would like to be. (My strength is Math – that’s no secret.) Therefore, I feel like I’m constantly trying to figure out the best way to teach reading and writing to my students. And, each year it’s like I start from scratch again, hoping to “figure it out” this year.

Our conversation turned toward another topic of concern for me as well - evaluation and marking. It’s not so much the gathering of information that I have the issue with. I know how my kids are doing and I assess them with rubrics, checklists, observational data, conferencing etc. However, the subjectivity and somewhat grey area that can creep into evaluating a piece of student writing,  has given me a feeling of dissonance for a while now.

We operate on a 100 point scale in my province, and I truly feel as though I am working within a flawed system. Even when I use a rubric, mathematically the results don’t always convert to the percent that is most appropriate for the piece of work. On a four point rubric, if a student is meeting expectations across the board, he will receive a 75%. Did he deserve a 75%, though? Was his work a “strong three” and therefore more worthy of an 85%? Or perhaps, he met expectations, but just barely and since a pass is a 60%, he should receive a mark closer to 60%? Realistically, what’s the difference between an 87% and an 88%? I would love to give letter grades a try. Having a range of marks that is suitable for a piece seems so much more appropriate than the system that we’re currently using here.

Anyhow, we chatted  for a while and it was so nice to get some of these things off of my chest  and to come up with a plan of sorts for how to best work within the system. I’ve been teaching based on the themes and resources that we received 2 years ago when we got a new program. As the Literacy coach reminded me, they are the resources, not the curriculum (although of course they are based on the curriculum outcomes). She suggested that since I seem to be searching for a better way to organize my ELA program,  that I do so by writing form, rather than theme. I’m willing to try anything and after talking to her, I’m quite excited to see what this may look like for the remainder of the school year.

The current book club writing focus is poetry, which works out perfectly, since we haven’t covered it much yet this year. This weekend, I’ll be looking at the other forms of writing that still need to be covered before the end of the school year and finding reading selections within our program resources that support/are examples of each writing form. That way, if we are doing Descriptive Report writing, for example, we’ll only be reading examples of descriptive reports so that we can really get a feel for how a report is written and the text features that authors may use such as captions, diagrams, headings etc. Even though this mid-year plan reorganization is going to take time and a lot of effort, I am SO okay with it if it means that I will be more focused in my teaching and my students in their learning. The thing is, I know without even beginning, that it will be! The Literacy coach also gave me some ideas for how to make my rubrics aimed more precisely at what I’ll be covering – so that’s great! Although she’s supposed to be just for the K-6 teachers, she has been wonderful to do her best to support me as well in our K-7 school.

As for my other issue, with the 100 point scale – I know that this is a shift that will have to come from above (or within). I am doubtful that things will ever change within my career – but who knows! Perhaps I’ll spearhead a crusade for letter grades and finally release us from the shackles of this ridiculous system of evaluating students once and for all!

How do you mark where you teach? Percents? Letter grades? What kind of assessment tools do you prefer?

 assessing writing in middle school

 PS: In case you haven’t heard – HUGE SUPER SALE at TeachersPayTeachers THIS SUNDAY – tomorrow! TPT is offering 10% off of all purchases and most sellers will be having sales in their stores as well. Everything in my TPT Store will be on sale at 28% off (the most I can do). If you have any items on your wishlists – it’s time to get them off of there!

 

assessing middle school writing

 

Valentine’s Day “Making Words” Literacy and Math Freebie ~ Plus a February Freebies Link-Up!

Teaching grade 7, I don’t do as many activities with my students for holidays as perhaps teachers in the younger grades. Every once in a while though, it’s kind of nice to break away from the routine a bit, and celebrate a special day.

So, I have a Valentine’s freebie for you! It would be a great bell ringer activity for Valentine’s Day.

It’s a “Making Words” activity for grades 4-7, but has a math twist for the older students. Students must make words with the letters in “Happy Valentine’s Day” but depending on which challenge you give them, they are doing one of five things.

The freebie is below for you to have a look at!

 

 

valentine freebie activity

 

valentine's day freebieSlide4Slide5valentine's day freebievalentine's day freebie valentine's day activity   Also, I’ve linked up to an awesome February Freebies Link-up with Laura Candler of Corkboard Connections. Be sure to check out her blog post for TONS of February freebies by clicking on the heart!

Tracee Orman has a Valentine’s Link-up under way as well! Be sure to check her freebies out by clicking on the image below.

ValentinesDayFreebieLinkUp

 

 

middle school lessons from the middle school blog canadian blog, middle school math photo

 

Book Club Update: They had glimmers!

Lessons From The Middle, canadian teacher blog,book club discussionI posted yesterday about the issue that I’ve been having with my students just not having the types of discussions that I hoped that they would have (spontaneously, of course) in their book club groups. I told you that I was going to try a few things (I’m still open to more suggestions) and so I just couldn’t wait to let you know what happened in class today.

I started off by talking about their book clubs, if they were enjoying them and so on. I got TONS of insight in this little discussion as to why they were not necessarily “Chatty Cathy” in their book club groups.

One boy said that his book is a good book, but he just doesn’t identify with the female character who’s from another country and has run away from home. Fair enough.

Another student voiced something similar, although he just doesn’t enjoy the book. His character has very different interests than him and he finds it hard to read about someone who is nothing like himself.

One of the girls said that there just wasn’t enough drama in the book for her to enjoy it – nothing was really happening.

Another girl is really enjoying the same book. She said that no one else in her group seems to like the book as much as she does and it’s hard to have a conversation when the other people aren’t into it as much as her.

Another girl said that she was hoping that there would be more to the plot – that the book seems kind of boring and therefore hard to discuss.

Okay, so mystery one – solved. I was under the impression that some of the students were enjoying the books more than they are and that is part of the problem. So how do you get kids to keep up the discussion on a book that they would normally abandon if they’d chosen it on their own? Answers…please?

Today I also showed them a video of a group of students having a book club discussion from the DVD set that we have at the school, mentioned in yesterday’s post. It was a perfect example modelling what their discussions could and should look like. This helped out a lot. They were very honest saying that their discussions look like that sometimes, but definitely not very often. They have been stuck in a turn-taking style of discussion, but they admit they’d like to have more of a conversation style. So…we’re working on it! The first step is identifying the problem – and we’ve got that covered!

 I did give my students their ”think marks” as mentioned yesterday and most said that they much rather them over the response that I was getting them to do in their scribbler. I put them on bright paper too, to help “sell” them as a little different. I mentioned the stickies to them and a few thought that they’d like to try them, while others thought that they’d probably lose them.

Next, rather than doing our read aloud first as usual, I had them read their assigned sections, use their “during reading” think marks and then meet with their book club group (rather than having the process span over 2 days). This worked and it didn’t work. MOST students were finished reading their section close to the same time. The few students who are slower to read did not get to join their book club and be a part of the conversation before the end of class. What am I going to do about that? Before, I had set it up so that they were coming in to class, having finished their reading at home and ready to discuss. However, then I had the time-lapse issue, the loss of momentum for discussions and I ran the risk that they didn’t read their sections at all! But now, some students may not get to participate in the book club discussion, unless I hold the others off until everyone is finished. What will they do while they wait? Answers, please? I’d love to hear them!

I did get to meet with two groups and heard some GREAT discussion. Wonderings and predictions, building on each other’s comments and thoughts. It was SO much better! I asked the students at the end, how they thought it went in comparison and they agreed that it was a vast improvement over their last discussion. Yay! I’ll take it!

So now, I want to come up with some kind of simple reflection of each book club session itself, for them to assess the conversations that they’re having as a group and how they could make them better. Tonight’s homework, I suppose…Who am I kidding? The couch and “The Big Bang Theory” are calling my name. I hope it’s a new one! That Sheldon cracks me up!

Thanks for all of the awesome comments yesterday. I so appreciate you taking your precious time to do that. If you have any more comments on book clubs in general – please share!

 middle school lessons from the middle school blog canadian blog, middle school math photo

Book Club Discussions: Moving Beyond the Text To Make Meaningful Connections

So we’re about half way through our book club and things are going okay. My class is a group of very verbal kids (and then some not so verbal kids). They seem to be enjoying their novels and I know that they’re engaged in the read aloud text: Firegirl. I have been struggling with one thing, which is getting students to discuss their novels in a meaningful way, without my prompting.

book clubStudents are struggling to keep the conversation going for more than 5 or 10 minutes in their book clubs, after their assigned reading. They are finding it difficult to break away from taking turns, …I talk…then you talk…then you… rather than having a conversation. 

When I realized that this was going to be a struggle (after the first book club meeting) I modelled a conversation for the class. Basically, after reading the section of our read aloud text, a few student volunteers and I had a conversation in front of the class about what had happened. I tried to model what the dicussion should look like, asking questions, building meaning etc. It was a start – but just not enough! If prompted, they can come up with all sorts of ideas, connections and predictions. However, without my prompting, I am listening to very basic comprehension types of statements without any real excitement!

It’s sad. All this time is being spent on the book club and the real meat of the club – talking about what they’re reading – is falling flat. Now I won’t be too hard on them (or me, I guess). There have been some glimmers during their conversations, I just find that given the students I have – I expected more! I struggle to shut them up ( you know what I mean) on a good day, having to ask them to put their hands down because we’ll just never get to finish the lesson (sometimes their connections are not always on topic and once that train falls off the rails…).

Well, we had a short after school PD session on Guided Reading for K-8 yesterday, and it got me thinking about how I’m doing things in this book club and what they are actually getting out of it.

I talked to our presenter after the session about the conversation dilemma and she actually directed me toward a great resource that our school has: Teaching and Comprehending Fluency: Thinking, Talking and Writing about Reading (with DVD). I read the chapter on book clubs and got a couple of great ideas from it. The DVD that comes with the book has lots of other resources on it as well! The one that I plan to us is the video modelling what a book club discussion is supposed to look like – with real students discussing a real text.  I can’t wait to show it to my students and see what they have to say about it, especially in comparison to their own groups. I’m really hoping that it’s going to put some spark into their book club discussions.

I guess maybe I was a little naive, as this is my first book club. I just thought they’d dive in, like on Oprah and divulge their thoughts and wonderings, building elegantly on one another’s ideas. Ugghhh…What was I thinking?

Oh, one other idea that I got from the book was to have students use a “think mark” – basically just a folded piece of paper - to write ideas down as they come across things in their reading. They can mark page numbers down, predictions, opinions, wonderings, words they don’t understand etc. and then take those to book club to use as they discuss. I’m going to try this one tomorrow.

So, help me out! What other strategies can I try, to make the second half of this book club more engaging than the first? I’m completely open to your ideas!

I’ll tell you what I’ve got so far…

-Students are already expected to have a Reader Response ready and topic of discussion for the book club meeting (completed after they read). And, I’m going to try the think mark idea tomorrow.

-Students have “Guidelines for Book Club” to encourage listening and making sure that everyone has a chance to speak.

What I plan to try…

-Showing them the DVD of the book club discussion as a model and talk about what the students are doing well.

I’m ready and listening…share your wisdom…please!middle school lessons from the middle school blog canadian blog, middle school math photo